This afternoon's Media Day marked the unofficial start of Michigan football season. Over the coming days we'll be posting several interviews with players and coaches—and, of course, Harbaugh's presser. First up is Kyle Kalis, who had some fascinating things to say about the new way of doing things under the new staff. Oh, and some thoughts on shirtlessness. Note: several of these are MGoQuestions, but not all or them. I'll note in other posts if I had an actual one-on-one.
What's been the biggest change for you from Hoke to Harbaugh?
Really not much has changed team-wise. It's great to know we have a coach like Coach Harbaugh. Going through spring with Coach, learning how he likes to do practice, seeing how intense he is—I think just his intensity alone drives us and makes us practice harder which in turn is going to make us a great team. Especially going into camp, it's going to be a long camp, it's going to be a grind, but we've put in the work all summer and we're ready for it.
It sounds like Harbaugh is keeping you guys on your toes. Do you guys know the schedule or...?
Oh, yeah, Coach's deal is he doesn't like us to know, he doesn't like us to be able to prepare for things. He wants us to be able to react. That's what we're doing so far. Like coming into today, we didn't even know we had media today. We walked through the door and here we are talking to you guys.
So you guys didn't know this was going on today?
We knew something was up. When we got the schedule, there was no practice today, so were like, "Oh, something's up. It's going down."
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the interview.]
The worst kept secret in Michigan football is now finally public:
Media Day uncovered another loss that had not yet come to light with redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Chris Fox bringing his playing career to a close.
A native of Parker, Colo., the 6-6, 303 pounds Fox played in one game last season, but was not introduced with the lineman on Thursday despite appearing on the roster.
An athletic department official confirmed that Fox will continue with the program as a student assistant coach. He will be moved to a medical scholarship, which does not count against the 85 scholarship limit set by the NCAA.
Fox was set to be a redshirt sophomore this fall and opens up a 2016 scholarship as a result. Michigan was already at 84 scholarship players give or take a Norfleet, so his departure opens up another slot for a walk-on.
Upchurch – MGoBlog
Michigan’s first stroke of bad luck came late in November: the Wolverines had just lost a hard-fought contest to eventual 1-seed Villanova in Brooklyn, but starting point guard Derrick Walton suffered some sort of toe injury – one that would affect him for the remainder of the year, eventually sidelining him for good in late January. It was evident that the injury sapped Walton of his explosiveness, both vertically and running in the open floor, but he played through it until his other foot was injured, most likely due to overcompensation for his original injury.
After a disappointing sophomore campaign, it’s prudent to recall exactly how good Walton was as a freshman. He started all but one game for a team that would come to the brink of a return trip to the Final Four and excelled in a modest role on offense. Derrick got better throughout the season: he posted a gaudy offensive rating (120.8) on a not-insignificant usage rate (18.4) in conference play while posting the fourth-highest free throw rate of qualifying players in the Big Ten; he was arguably Michigan’s best perimeter defender; he shot 41% from three on the season on 105 attempts. Expectations were naturally quite optimistic for the highly-touted Detroit point guard entering his sophomore season.
It’s hard to quantify exactly how much of Walton’s struggles were due to his injury, the stark decline in talent around him, or the burden of an increased role on offense, but the drop-off was so severe that the injury is the best explanation. After shooting an impressive 59% at the rim as a freshman, he shot 41% inside the restricted area as a sophomore – evidence that his toe was clearly bothering him. Derrick was still called on to play just shy of 40 minutes a game (barring auto-bench foul trouble in the first half) and, even though Spike Albrecht played well down the stretch, Walton was clearly Michigan’s first option at the point guard spot before his season-ending injury.
* * *
[After the jump: let's go back to the beginning]
Oblig coach obit. Don't get on my case, man.
I mean, he gave Penn State a free shot at the endzone by taking a timeout with three seconds left in the first half.
What do you do with that? How do you put that into your ongoing calculations? Add that datum to the rickety mess that is your ever-shifting, often-hypocritical, prone-to-explode model of your favorite thing in the world, and what happens? I don't know. The brain elects not to travel down that path. The future ceases to exist, replaced by only the ever more nonsensical present. All series diverge. Projection is impossible.
Let's jam that thing in anyway.
Not an improvement, but not any worse either. At that point such a thing was almost expected, after the previous year's offensive line roulette and 27 for 27 and two minute drills that usually took five minutes. Time for some maniacal giggling, then.
On the bright side, even three-and-a-half years deep into a coaching tenure that resembled nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote sauntering off a cliff Brady Hoke still had ways to surprise you.
Brady Hoke should never have been Michigan's football coach. This was apparent from the start, as at the time of his hire he had two assets: the fool's gold of an undefeated MAC regular season and a reasonable, if truncated, turnaround job at San Diego State. Aside from that he had five seasons of average MAC ball and zero years as a coordinator. Even the breakout year at Ball State ended with consecutive blowout losses to Buffalo and Tulsa.
When you stake your program to a resume like that you're as likely as not to come out the other end with Tim Beckman or Tim Brewster or Darrell Hazell. An infinite number of nondescript gentleman have had the ball bounce the right way during the furball that is a season in the Mid-American. Some of them populate the lower rungs of the Big Ten when Purdue can't think of anything better.
And then there's Bo.
Bo was on another level, having gone 27-8-1 in league play in six years with Miami. Even he was widely derided. Here is that picture again.
In the center is a man who has made a Decision. It's no exaggeration to say that Michigan's best and… most recent athletic directors staked their careers on whether they could separate coaching talent from noise.
All these years later, you get why Canham rolled the dice on Bo. Bo was a legendary hardass who took nothing from anyone and comfortably existed atop the roiling mass of chaos that is any football program, successful or not. He chewed out players on the sidelines, sent them back in the game, and cracked impish smiles at the reaming he'd just handed to the young man. He has a gravitas that stays with the program—veritably looms—a decade after his death. Bo had the proverbial It, and you can understand how he communicated that to Canham in whatever passed for a job interview between them.
That understanding will permanently elude historians attempting to discern what comparable force of personality Brady Hoke brought to a press conference in the Junge Center in January 2011.
There was a moment, though. Now it's hard to remember that Brady Hoke had two years in which it seemed he was indeed gold that does not glitter. Hoke gruffly intoned "This Is Michigan, fergodsakes" in response to a question nobody remembers. He wore short sleeves in weather ranging from torrid to frozen. His matter-of-fact declarations and tough toughness were his tentpoles. We hung a great edifice of hope on it; Hoke going to and winning a BCS game in year one provided buttresses and filigree and whatnot to the structure.
At a few years remove it's clear that Hoke stumbled ass-backwards into that success. Few 11-2 seasons have been jankier than Michigan's 2011. The Notre Dame game that kicked things off was a deranged exercise in winning against double coverage; Michigan threw 41 times for 2.8 YPA against Michigan State; they had 166 yards of offense before chuck-and-pray time against Iowa; they were one overthrown Braxton Miller pass away from losing to a .500 OSU team; they won that bowl game with 184 yards of total offense.
The signs were all there, even in the moment ("lucky as hell," quoth this space in the aftermath of the Denard After Dentist game). I alternated between excitement at the idea of a head coach who had an innate aggressiveness on fourth down and wondering why the hell they thought Denard Robinson could be Tom Brady.
But the games were won, and the recruits rolled in. Hoke seemed to stroll through a garden of four-stars gathering what he would. For a year or two, everything seemed just fine. In 2013, Michigan beat Notre Dame rather easily. Michigan fans were walking on air. Then someone looked down.
Rarely in the history of college football has a fanbase been jerked so rudely to attention as already beleaguered Michigan fans were in 2013. The relatively straight line that was the Hoke era turned into a harrowing plunge straight into the bowels of second-and-eleven-play-action hell. Save for an inexplicable Ohio State game, Michigan became the most brutally unwatchable team in the country the instant they left the field against Notre Dame.
Hoke was the same person through the good bits and the bad. He was gruffly nonsensical to start and gruffly nonsensical to end. As success turned to failure, the things we liked about him became the things we hated about him. Remember when this was hilarious?
That joke isn't funny anymore.
Despite the fact that people will still swear up and down that Brady Hoke is a great dude, I have less charity in my heart for him than I did Rich Rodriguez when it came to write his obit. A slice from that piece:
Coaches aren't humans. They are walking soundbites wrapped in great swirling cloaks of mythology. Rap on one of their chests. You will get a hollow clang and a statement about senior leadership. Kick sand in one of their faces. You will get a lecture from Peter the Great. Peter the Great will be confused and incensed that he cannot sentence you to hang. Tell one his aunt has been dismembered by bikers on PCP and you will get a statement about senior leadership. Seniors don't do PCP and rip aunts limb from limb, because they have leadership.
Rodriguez was human. He was just this guy. He wasn't supernatural or metallic. If you rapped his chest he would probably get a little weepy. He did not seem like a great leader of men, or a colossus astride anything, or even a dude fully in control of his shit.
Hoke was that coachbot even in impossible circumstances. By the end so many indignities had piled up that I was waiting for him to snap.
It never came. He endured the brutally painful press conference following last year's Minnesota game as a coachbot. He released a statement apologizing to Michigan State for Joe Bolden putting a small piece of metal in their field. At no point did he bite the head off a reporter, or say that his boss had sold him down the river, or do anything at all other than repeat the same goddamn things he'd been repeating for two straight years.
I liked Rodriguez because he seemed like a person who reacted to stimuli. He reacted too much, but at least you could see that he was processing information and coming to conclusions about what it meant.
Hoke did not do this. Whether Hoke was stoic or insensate is in the eye of the beholder; given the chaos around the program my vote is the latter. He seemed to shut down in terror when his dream job turned to a nightmare.
As the competence of his team deteriorated, Hoke shuffled his coaching staff nonsensically instead of making real changes. He stuck with his terrible punt formation and a style of offense unsuited for his quarterbacks. Even after it was clear his disastrous program could not be allowed to continue—the financial ruin it would cause must have been apparent to even Michigan's most recent athletic director—nothing changed. If Hoke thought he had a chance, well, he also called timeout to give Penn State a free Hail Mary.
At least Nero fiddled. Brady Hoke stood there in the rain without so much as shaking a fist at the heavens.
After Tyus Battle took the last available scholarship in the 2016 class only to decommit and cause Michigan to lose out on fellow five-star wing Josh Langford, it looked like John Beilein's strict adherence to not oversigning—even in the attrition-heavy environment of major conference college hoops—cost Michigan their shot at an elite wing, especially after they accepted the commitment of three-star Ibi Watson last week.
Sam Webb hinted in the wake of Watson commitment that was not, in fact, the case. When Webb broke the news that five-star wing Miles Bridges, a Flint native who plays for Huntington (WV) Prep, would visit on Monday, the picture became clear: Michigan is changing their recruiting tack and they're not done recruiting wings.
Michigan had been the only school in Bridges' top five not to offer him, since he hadn't taken a visit to Ann Arbor yet. That changed following Monday's visit, according to Webb. While Kentucky and Michigan State are the favorites to land Bridges, there's reason for optimism. Bridges is AAU teammates with top point guard target Cassius Winston, and they've mentioned a desire to play together in college. [Insert caveat about package deals here.]
This is a significant shift for Michigan, as it'd mark a change in Beilein's willingness to project attrition when recruiting. The Wolverines need a point guard in this class; it's expected commit Austin Davis will take a prep year and reclassify to 2017 to make room for one. There isn't an obvious way to make room for one more, but Beilein isn't exactly at risk of going Full Crean (never go Full Crean); with the logjam at the three and the four, plus the potential for a Zak Irvin breakout year, it'd be a surprise if every eligible member of this year's team was back in 2016-17.
It's a lesson learned the hard way, but it looks like Beilein took note of what happened with Battle and is making the requisite adjustments to his recruiting strategy.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
|Manlius, NY – 6'6", 260|
|Scout||4*, #279 overall
#25 DE, #1 NY
|Rivals||4*, NR overall
#13 TE, #1 NY
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#12 TE, #1 NY
|24/7||4*, #323 overall
#13 TE, #1 NY
|Other Suitors||Bama, UCLA, USC, UF, FSU, Oregon, PSU, Wisconsin|
|YMRMFSPA||Tyler Ecker or Levine Toilolo|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Semper Fi game. Son of—surprise!—Tyrone Wheatley.|
The second consecutive junior on our recruiting profile series is also the son of a Wolverine legend, one who happens to be the running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley's kid is not a sprinter, though: he's a 6'6", 260 pound jumbo athlete who could play on either side of the ball.
This sounds like a person fated to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. It is possible Wheatley Jr's very existence set in motion the series of events that ended with Jim Harbaugh stumbling to the podium in January. But for the longest time it didn't seem like the younger Wheatley was particularly interested in Michigan. It was in fact USC, UCLA and Alabama that were thought to lead until his dad was hired. Michigan wasn't even on his list for a minute there.
But all's well that ends well, and Michigan has a… large gentleman. The recruiting sites don't really know what position he's going to be; neither do I. They generally came around to the idea he'd be a tight end late, with a couple flipping his position in their last updates. The impetus for this appears to be his appearance at the Semper Fi game, where he demonstrated a certain skill($) Michigan has been badly lacking in their tight ends for a while now:
He's a big, strong, physical tight end prospect … I talked to an analyst who watched him all week at the Semper Fidelis All-Star game practices and said he was knocking people off the ball and dominating other elite defensive end prospects at the line of scrimmage. … got the length and athleticism to block a speed rusher or a quicker outside linebacker and can hold his own against a big 3-4 defensive end. In the passing game, Wheatley is still raw but he's got very soft and secure hands.
Neither the blocking proficiency or the receiving inexperience is much of a surprise. Wheatley caught just 11 passes as a senior on a team that barely threw the ball. Just about all of them are in the reel above. The elder Wheatley talked to Sam Webb about it:
"…you really won’t see him blossom as a tight end because of the offense that they’re in. … when they do target him, he is double covered and the ball is sometimes overthrown, underthrown. You really won’t see him blossom in that regard. The kid has mitts. He can catch the ball. He has great range for a big fellow. He has great catching radius. He can catch the ball over his shoulder, adjust."
That was mostly confirmed by other scouting reports. This one is a bit wobbly but I mean basically:
Wheatley Jr. is a menace. He has a wide body and impressive strength. And while he usually shines as a blocker, he made his presence known in the passing attack on Friday. He didn't look pretty catching passes at all times. In fact, he fought the ball on occasions, but he always made the catch when targeted.
ESPN described something similar to "fighting the ball" in their report, citing some "tightness" when he tries to adjust to a ball in flight. That seems to be the inverse of when a guy gets praised for his body control. Wheatley might not be the most agile guy, and that is why the recruiting sites don't have a ranking for him commensurate with his offers.
I was under the impression that Wheatley Jr was a bigger deal in the rankings than he actually was. When you have an offer list like that out of New York you're usually a no-doubter. So it's a surprise that he makes a top 300 just once and ESPN offers up a three star rating.
Those offers were seemingly sincere. I went back and checked out some 247 articles from schools in pursuit and there was no mention of whether he was a "take" or not, just excitement and optimism they might lock him down. I mean, he took an official to Tuscaloosa in late January.
But I get it. If Wheatley's a TE there's a lot of projection you have to make from that particular offense in upstate New York to one that throws in college. Scout put him on their list of the top five kids "best served to redshirt":
… has a world of talent. If he plays tight end in college, he will have to drop some weight. If he plays defensive end, he will need to refine his technique.
And Wheatley does not demonstrate the ability to blow the top off the defense like a Fleener or an OJ Howard. (Or a Funchess, if Funchess was a tight end, which he is emphatically not.) ESPN is the only service to give him three stars and that lack appears to be their main issue with him:
very good height and a lengthy frame that can still support more good mass … Doesn't demonstrate the burst or top-end speed to stretch the field … Size and reach can make a tough match-up, but doesn't display great burst out of breaks to consistently run away from defenders and create separation. … good hands with the ability to extend and catch away from his frame. Displays ability to reach up and snag passes thrown above his head. …not always natural when having to open up frame and adjust.
The snippets of Wheatley as a receiver above confirm that, but there is still some upside here. Wheatley pushed up to 270 at points during high school before getting back down to 260. He is still developing physically, and might drop to 250 and up his quicks, or he might end up 280 and be a road grader (or DE).
And what about defensive end? Certainly a possibility. Both his dad and his coach think his maximum upside is there:
"His dad has been on record as saying he's a better defensive player. I would probably go there. I think he's an amazing defensive end. He's a great tight end as well, but the things he's able to do, he's able to dominate games at defensive end."
Early in his high school days he mostly chose DE when he went to camps, and his showings there spurred the flood of early offers from heavy hitters:
…far and away the best player at the camp. The Rivals250 defensive end has added a lot of strength to his core and it helped him play with good leverage. Wheatley used that strength to help push offensive linemen out of the way en route to the quarterback. He also showed very good technique, beating offensive linemen inside and outside.
His stats are certainly more impressive at that spot, although mostly because they don't hand out stats for making kids two dimensional.
Given what we saw this spring, I guarantee that in 2016 we get reports that Wheatley is playing on both sides of the ball. You know, just in case. Whether he sticks there will depends partially on how he's doing as a DE and partially on how much Harbaugh likes Bunting, Hill, McKeon, et al. versus Wormley, Johnson, Marshall, et al. Given the two DEs in this recruiting class and Harbaugh's predilection for TEs, the bet here is that he stays on offense. You never know, though.
Why Tyler Ecker or Levine Tiololo? Ecker is your Michigan comparison: a hefty but reasonably agile tight end able to be a dual threat. Ecker is infamous for the end of that Nebraska bowl game, but when he was not doing that he was a B+ athlete who was a solid starter for Michigan. Wheatley is a bit bigger, and Ecker was not regarded as an especially punishing blocker. Hopefully Wheatley would be Ecker++.
Tiololo is the Harbaugh comparison. At his Cardinal apex, Harbaugh's three-headed TE troika included Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo, all of whom went in the the NFL draft. The 6'8", 260 pound Toilolo was the biggest and most ponderous of the group—Fleener ran a 4.52 40 at 250 pounds!—but still a highly effective weapon thanks to his catching radius and the fact that he could generally outrun people who started the play going the wrong way.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. General consensus seems based on a shruggie emoticon about where he'll play. Level of competition and style of offense makes TE evaluation difficult. Did hit a number of camps as an underclassman and played in Semper Fi game.
Variance: High. Could be a killer. Could be just okay.
Ceiling: High. At either end or TE has the ability to play in the NFL.
General Excitement Level: High. Harbaugh/Drevno TEs tend to be excellent and Wheatley provides enticing clay for them to work with. None of Harbaugh's NFL TE troika were ranked anywhere near Wheatley.
Projection: Likely he plays as a freshman. Harbaugh loves him some tight ends and Wheatley may be better prepared to be a second blocker than Ian Bunting, who is still listed 20 pounds lighter than Wheatley is. Khalid Hill was out this spring, as well, so Harbaugh is unfamiliar with him. Easy to see Wheatley as the second inline tight end in goal line/Harbaugh packages.
From there, he'll probably continue being the blocky sidekick to Michigan's slightly quicker tight ends. Butt has another year left after this one and Bunting should be rounding into a Michigan version of Fleener or Ertz; Wheatley will get a ton of time and will hopefully be the unsung hero that gets ++++ in UFR.